Arthur Cox

In Memoriam: Arthur Cox

January 08, 2007


By Dr. Fred Abbott

Arthur CoxIn early January the Optical Community lost one of the World’s best known and respected Optical Designers, Dr. Arthur Cox. Arthur had been a friend for almost 40 years and was actively designing lenses until a few days before his death at 92, in Newport Beach, California.

Arthur graduated with honors from the University of Durham, in England, and, in 1937, after earning a scholarship to Cambridge University (Christ College), went on to earn a Master’s Degree in mathematics. In the early sixties he was awarded a D.Sc., from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Upon graduation from Cambridge Arthur commenced his career in Optics. He joined Aldis Brothers (both Cambridge Graduates) in Birmingham, England, as an Optical Designer. He soon became well known for his skill in Optical Design and after 3 years was offered a job in Leicester for a Company named Taylor, Taylor and Hobson. The same company I was to join 20 years later. It was one of the best companies in the World and already had a great reputation. At TT & H, Cox worked for one of the most respected optical designers of that period, Arthur Warmisham. He was also joined by two other well-known colleagues, Charles Wynne and Harold Hopkins, both later to move on to Imperial College and, in Hopkins case, later to become the head of the Optical Department at Reading University.

During World War II, Cox worked on a wide range of Optical Lenses and systems, mainly for Military applications, for which he was awarded a substantial number of Patents. Since those early days the science of Optical Design has evolved at an astounding rate. Cox, initially used log tables and a circular slide rule to perform computations. He once told me that the weather was so cold in the winter that he wore gloves with the fingers removed to facilitate using the circular slide rule. In those days he was very industrious, not only designing lenses but also manufacturing them. His life long interest in the use of aspheric surfaces began at TT & H.

It was at that time that he also became a prolific writer. His first book, Photographic Optics, published in 1943, was written during the War Years and was such a success that today the book is in its 14th edition and has been published in several languages. So that he could continue writing during bombing raids, Arthur told me that he wrote while lying on a mattress, under the table, using only a candle to provide adequate illumination.

In 1947, Arthur moved his family to the United States when he joined Farrand Optical Company in New York. There he worked on a number of Optical Systems, mainly for use in Military Instruments. At that time he also completed his second book, Engineering Optics, which he had started, along with Ken Habell, when they both worked at TT & H. Habell had since moved to N.P.L. making communications between the two author’s particularly difficult. Nevertheless, the book was very unique and a great addition to the literature of the day.

In 1951, Cox was appointed Chief Optical Designer at the Bell & Howell Company in Chicago. It was there that Cox did his most productive work. He was responsible for developing and training a team of Optical Designers, one who was Tom Harris, later to become the founder of Optical Research Associates in Pasadena. At Bell and Howell he was responsible for creating a wealth of products. In particular, under his guidance, the efficient manufacture of zoom lenses was developed. Arthur, with his great experience, directed the use of a number of techniques encompassing many different disciplines. In particular, Arthur was responsible for developing methods for manufacturing aspheric surfaces. He described this before a distinguished audience at an International Conference in London in 1961.

Arthur continued his tremendous work in the Optical Field, contributing to the growth of Bell & Howell. Among systems, which were developed, were the Optical System for the Surveyor Spacecraft that landed on the moon. In addition Arthur continued his writing, producing the “Bible”, on Optical Design. The book, “A System of Optical Design”, contained over 600 pages and was published in 1964. It is safe to say that it was read by every practicing Optical Designer in the World. In the book Cox, not only derived all of the mathematics required in ray tracing but included an impressive collection of Patents. He retired from the Bell & Howell Company in 1967. At the time of his retirement he held the important position of Vice President of Optics.

Although Arthur retired from Bell & Howell, he did not retire from Optics. During the next 5 years he completely re-wrote Photographic Optics and consulted for a number of companies throughout the World. During that time I worked closely with him on a number of systems. I soon became impressed by his vast knowledge. On our first day together, for example, he switched on the computer, punched all of the cards, loaded the program, did the computations, optimized the design and then drew out the entire system using a ruler and compass. The system we designed was a dual magnification system for use underwater. It was required to meet all kinds of environmental conditions. Another customer, Ken O’Connor, the President of KFO Associates required the design and manufacture of a complex simulator for the US Navy. Arthur both designed the system and supervised its construction.

In early 1972, I received a call from Arthur, informing me that he had accepted an offer from the Chairman of Bell & Howell to return as President of the Optics Division. He remained there for 5 years before finally retiring, but not for long. He was soon back designing Optical Systems, particularly zoom lenses. He gave a number of papers on this topic at SPIE Meetings, the last one in April 2005, when he was 90 years old.

Dr. Cox was a Fellow of the Institute of Optics of London, a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and a Fellow of the International Society of Photo Optical Engineers. He held over 50 patents.

Arthur was preceded in death by his wife of over 50 years, Vida, to whom he dedicated all of his books and a son, Michael. He is survived by one son, Kenneth and his wife Katy of Houston, TX and two daughters, Judith Maxwell and her husband Jay of Newport Beach Ca. and Peggy Krubinski. Arthur had 11 grandchildren.

Dr. Fred Abbott can be reached at